Friday, October 24, 2008

The Soundtrack of My Life

Time: 7:00AM (Well, not really. I'm cheating. That's when I set blogger to post this entry)

Music: Eels

Currently eating: Peanut Butter crackers

Music has a huge influence on me to the point where I can’t imagine living without it. Music is everywhere. Memories from my childhood/teen years are based on the songs playing in the background during a certain moment or a popular album/song during a part of my life. When I hear Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill for example, I think of learning to drive, getting my first car and working at the local ice skating rink. I thought life was so hard and Alanis’s voice rang out to my group of friends, agreeing with us. Man, did I have it wrong. Even though I wouldn’t volunteer to be 16 again, life was pretty simple back then.

Music has a huge influence on my writing as well. Not only is my main character, Pence in a band playing bass, he also has an incredible music database in his head. He’s able to pick out a Jonas Brothers song just by the bop of two teens’ heads, their dance moves and lip syncing. He doesn’t even like the Jonas Brothers. Weaving in songs, music and band references (thanks Tracy for being my band/music guru!) helps to ground the story and character to the world.

When I start to write a story, I glom onto an artist or album. At the beginning of my research and even when I sit down to write the story, I listen to the band/artist repeatedly. This usually leads to my best writing days, which in turn makes me listen to their music more. Right now, while writing Lost and Found, I’ve been stuck on the Eels. Most of the Eels library of music helps me get into the groove (I currently have 4 Eels albums), but it’s Electro-Shock Blues that really does the trick. For me, this album IS Pence. I cannot write in Pence’s POV without listening to the album, at least I’ve convinced myself of that.

I’ve included my work-in-progress playlist for Lost and Found. Have fun listening to it and maybe you'll find a song that inspires you!

So, what music gets you in the writing mood?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Can Learn from The Shining

Time: 9:43 am (Hey I slept in!)
Today's highlight: Watching season 2 of Supernatural on DVD
This week's highlight: Going to Quebec City - packing is at top of to-do list.

As a horror movie buff I enjoy my October long tradition of renting as many horror flicks possible, and catching as many on TV as time allows. I thought I’d blog on one of my particular favourites, Stanley Kubrick’s, The Shining, based on Stephen King’s novel of the same title (which BTW, I haven’t actually read but will rectify shortly).

Everything I Need to Know About Writing I Can Learn from The Shining:

1. Flawed characters resonate with readers. Jack Torrance is a recovering alcholoic, a violent man who wants to set things right with his family. Wendy, his wife, is a skitish woman, living with an abusive husband, giving him yet another chance. Their son, Danny, is unlike other children. Readers can relate to different aspects of each character – they represent parts of ourselves we fear.

2. Characters have to change. But not always for the better. Jack starts off on a higher path of redemption but loses his way and descends into madness. Wendy is forced to shed her sheep clothing and defend her son like a lioness. Danny learns to use his talent. But ultimately, we revel in Jack’s fall.

3. Setting can affect plot in monstrously huge ways. The Overlook Hotel is meant to be overflowing with people – the lack of them makes it grotesque. A sudden snowstorm creates an environment of isolation and fear. Yes, setting. This is one I struggle with. I’m a heavy-dialogue writer, I tend to neglect setting. But perhaps I’m looking at it wrong. Setting is not just a description of what is out the window. It is a description of what a character perceives is out the window.

4. If there’s an obvious way for characters to escape or for the story to end, nix it. As The Shining reaches it’s arc and the characters are desperate to escape - the only means of communication, a radio is destroyed and so is the only vehicle capable of trekking through the snow. Nothing can come easy for characters. Readers are too sophisticated - they want meat with their potatoes. Plot needs to have twists and misdirection. Things can always get worse. In fact, they must.

5. Secondary characters need history and purpose. They just might save the day. Dick Hallorann, the chef at the Outlook Hotel, has a similar talent to Danny, he relates to the boy, offers advice and ultimately comes to the rescue. Minor characters can’t just be quirky portraits, they need motivation, full development, should advance the plot, introduce conflict and present solutions.

6. All work and no play makes Tracy a dull girl. Write, yes. But live, too.

7. Isolation isn’t always a writer’s dream come true. We all want to quit our day jobs, hide in a room and write. But isn’t that living in a vacuum? Some of my best ideas came to me while I was at work or hanging out with friends. Carry a notebook and a pen at all times. Self-imposed hermit-hood ain’t the way to go.